(Reuters) - The Tour de France will include an African team for the first time this year after race organizers offered MTN-Qhubeka a wildcard entry on Wednesday.
The South African outfit were one of five teams handed wildcards for the 73rd edition of the race to complement the 17 Union Cycliste International (UCI) teams automatically selected.
MTN-Qhubeka, whose black and white striped kit resembles that of Italian soccer club Juventus, are the largest professional multi-discipline team on the African continent and made their Grand Tour debut in last year's Vuelta.
Their rider list includes Eritrea's 24-year-old Natnael Berhane, twice African champion, while several South Africans are also on the roster.
The team, backed by South Korean electronics giant Samsung, helps to promote the work of the Qhubeka project which has distributed bicycles to children in rural African communities since 2004.
The UCI has also included the team in the starting list for the Criterium du Dauphine.
German team Bora-Argon 18 and French outfits Bretagne-Seche Environnement, Cofidis and Team Europcar have also received wildcards for the Tour.
(Reporting by Martyn Herman; editing by Ken Ferris)